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It can still amaze me sometimes, how little cable news pundits need to go on to manufacture a “political controversy” where none really exists.
Obviously, there are a lot of baseless lies perpetrated by repetition in the media every week. Recently, there was the infuriating “government has learned the lessons of Katrina” bit they kept pushing with the California wildfires story. Funny, I thought Kanye West articulated the lesson of Katrina quite well when he famously said “George Bush doesn't care about black people.” So how does the fact that a largely affluent, white community were well cared for during their disaster imply that anything has been learned? It doesn't.
But real news is not the forte of the press anymore—they're really at their most creative when blanket-covering a pretty boring story, like a three-year-long presidential race. Ultimately, there's not much real news there—polls, the occasional debate, speech or policy statement, and that's about it. But there are a lot of hours to fill on a 24-hour news station, and it's a hell of a lot easier to fill them with gossip. And if there's nothing really to gossip about, well, you can just start rumors and talk about that.
Take the universally embraced spin that Hillary Clinton “played the gender card” in the wake of her nebulous performance in the October 30 debate.
Clinton was—paraphrasing here—whining like a little bitch, according to, well, everybody on TV. The question wasn't even “is the bitch whining?” It was “is the bitch's whining going to hurt her campaign?” But the evidence for her whining was very thin—nonexistent, really. The story was tethered to two soundbites: One was a web video called “The Politics of Pile On”, released after Clinton's very Kerry-like hedging fit over Governor Spitzer's plan to give NY driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. The video features Clinton's debate opponents saying “Senator Clinton” repeatedly, and ends with Clinton saying “there's a reason” for all the attention. The clear message: They're criticizing me because I'm winning. There's no reason to infer at all that she's referring to her gender. There's no reason the ad wouldn't work equally if she were a man. What's the inference, that she's saying her opponents think she's hot?
But the main anchor of the Clinton-as-crybaby story is a quotation from an address she recently gave at her alma mater, Wellesley: “In so many ways, this all-women‘s college prepared me to compete in the all-boys club of presidential politics.” That's it. From that, virtually every cable news pundit determined that Hillary Clinton thinks the men are being mean because she's a girl.
First of all, nothing could be less debatable than presidential politics being an all-boys club. Literally every single president, even every single major party nominee for president, throughout history, has been a man. It's an all-boys club—also an all-whites club, naturally. Whether you like them or not, it really is a historic milestone in American politics that the two leading Democratic candidates are a black man and a woman. If Hillary wants to go back to her old school and brag about it, who can blame her? But that's the thing: she's bragging about being tough enough to roll with the big dogs. She can compete in the all-boys club, she says. How exactly does that indicate playing the victim? Here's a clue: it fucking doesn't. It just fucking doesn't. There's not a shred of credible evidence, not a little trace of a hint, that Hillary Clinton attempted in any way to cast herself as some metaphorical gangrape victim after her flawed debate performance. The story was a total fiction.
We see these things from time to time, lately especially with Clinton. Obama's wife says that she takes care of her kids, and we're treated to a week of “Michelle Obama attacks Hillary” roundtable discussions. But what's especially disturbing is how transparent it is that this story is a simple projection of its crafters' feelings about Hillary and women in general. The premise of it was completely unsupported by the footnotes, but that didn't stop the “experts” on “Hardball” from inventing their own, sexually insecure reality:
Chris Matthews: Don‘t you both agree, Linda, that she should just lighten up on this gender, “The boys are coming to get me” routine?
Linda Douglass, National Journal: Well, you can‘t ask people to be gender-blind and then make it all about your gender. And I think in this case, she‘s making a really big mistake because now she‘s ventured into feminist territory where the man is the enemy. That‘s part of what comes across when you say, It‘s the boys, it‘s all about the boys attacking me.
Tucker Carlson, an obvious Koro sufferer who often makes all-too-transparent “Hillary wants to cut off my penis” remarks, had this to offer:
And it was a quite—it was a complicated issue and it‘s a complicated question. Rather than answer it, she said this—“You know, Tim, this is where everyone plays gotcha.” In other words, why are you picking on poor little female me? That‘s pathetic. Can you run for president by saying, “don‘t ask me mean questions, I can‘t handle it, I‘m going to cry?” I mean that‘s what she‘s saying.
Really? She said “gotcha,” which is obviously code for “I'm a weak little girl?”
Of course Fox News' “Beltway Boys” had to get in on it:
Mort Kondracke: Now, on this point about her using the gender card or the skirt card, whatever you call it, I think it's unworthy of her. After all, Golda Meir and Margaret Thatcher and Indira Gandhi did not whine how the boys are ganging up on me. They ruled.
Fred Barnes: Mort, very good. I guess you didn't drink the Kool-Aid. I thought I was going to have to say that about the gender card. Well said.
Yes, that's a good little useful idiot, Mort. Similarly, Hillary was attacked on Hannity and Colmes, for “hiding behind skirts at Wellesley” and saying “those big mean boys are picking on me” by Virginia Republican harridan Kate Obenshain. Eventually, even Barack Obama joined in the fun, seriously diminishing his own credibility by reminding us that he's never called anyone a racist for criticizing him. Never mind how nuts that would be, or that Clinton, again, never said anything to even imply that sexism motivated her critics.
ABC News went even further in developing the non-story, adding their own transparently sexist plot twist: a catfight! Rick Klein's story, titled “Pelosi: Clinton Camp Played Gender Card,” is entirely predicated on a quotation from Pelosi, in which she specifically says that that is not what happened: “[Sen. Clinton] said it best: They're 'piling on'—or whatever the words were -- 'because I'm the front-runner.' That's why they're piling on,” said Pelosi. “If she was in third place, they wouldn't say, 'Let's go attack a woman.'”
Pelosi goes on to say “I think the campaign is trying... to say, 'Oh, they were really rude,' or something like that, and that has some salience.”
So, based on that, Klein says that Pelosi is accusing Clinton of playing the dreaded gender card. It's hard to see how he would arrive at that conclusion, unless he just really, really wants to. But the most egregious part of the story is its accompanying picture:
Look, there are real, good reasons to dislike Hillary Clinton. For instance, all the people who don't seem to dislike her anymore: Charles Krauthammer for instance, or George Will. Or key Bush funders. A lot of people I am uncomfortable with seem very comfortable with the prospect of another Clinton administration. Dislike Hillary because she left her principles at Wellesley, or because Bill signed NAFTA. Dislike her because she is John Kerry in a pantsuit, or because her healthcare plan is a giveaway to insurance companies and HMOs, not a real solution. But please don't make it this obvious that our culture is still so infantile that any woman who doesn't shake her tits at us is perceived as an affront to masculinity. Don't just invent some hostile bullshit story because an ambitious woman makes your dick shrivel. It's just embarrassing.
Despite all this falsification of media narrative, Hillary will likely coast to the nomination, much to my own disappointment. But that's when things will kick into overdrive, and the real-time media sexism will really be impossible to ignore. Nobody's going to say “bitch;” they're going to say “cackle” and “shrill” and “nails on a chalkboard.” They'll say “feminist” and “defensive” and “finger on the button.” And it will always be in the form of a question: “Is Hillary a hysterical, shrieking maniac?” And then what? President Guiliani, the greater of two evils. And it wouldn't bother me so much if it wasn't for such idiotic reasons.
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